Housing Land Use Transportation

Raleigh’s Sustainability Strategy

Climate change is real, the need to address it is urgent and to date our community has created a system that disincentivizes our residents from opting into a sustainable model of decreasing their personal footprint and our community’s collective impacts as a city. Last week we discussed some of the implications of climate change globally and started to examine critical steps we could take as a community to help create a better model. There is both a burden and a responsibility that we as Raleighites carry as we develop and grow as a community. Statistically, those that will bear the largest burden for climate impacts are the world’s most vulnerable populations but here in Raleigh there are many that will also experience significant hardship as our climate changes.

Notably, those that currently live in floodplains or adjacent to bodies of water in Raleigh will face significant adverse impacts to their homes in the event of extreme weather events like hurricanes and rain storms. Raleigh is working to provide better stormwater management guidelines to reduce the number of residents and businesses directly impacted by flooding events but we all have to do better if we want to ensure that our residents and our community are resilient in the face of changing climate impacts. Resiliency for our communities and our people must come first. Wake County, to date, has not taken a strong enough stance on floodplain development. In fact, this article cites Wake County as the 10th worst in the nation for this practice.

Increased heat as temperature rise takes place will make hot southern climates literally deadly for those that live paycheck to paycheck when a utility bill goes unpaid or for our homeless populations that lack a conditioned space to call home each night. Moreover, more extreme weather patterns will bring impacts across the entire spectrum of our humanitarian, ecological, and economic future.

The City of Raleigh has a moral obligation to act urgently on these issues. Staff are working on a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Update, a robust process that outlines goals and objectives to help our city work systematically toward making progress. If we desire to truly move the needle on these issues we must work to systematically and diligently to implement changes that will lead to the outcomes we desire. The process of developing these tools and inventories also needs citizen engagement to highlight the importance of this topic. The City’s work to date can be found on the City Website’s Sustainability Reports page, though notably the most recent report is dated 2016.

Worth noting, national efforts, like this Sustainable Development Goals Index from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network offer guidance into what our community is doing right, and what needs (considerable) work. Raleigh, the final row on the chart below, is very “middle of the pack” with only two indexes coming up as green in this report, and many orange and red, indicating poor performance.

It’s evident that we must do more and that we’re failing to provide solutions to our residents to help them choose a more sustainable path as residents of our community. We have a list of the three changes we think the city needs to double down on to see effective change.

  1. Transportation: We have to start first with how we get around, which to date is almost entirely by driving – everywhere, for everything. Some folks prefer this, many others are hungry for alternatives. Cars are a first choice because they are the easiest choice. Fundamentally – we must change that if we wish to move forward on climate issues. Folks will not opt into riding their bikes unless we have a safe, separated, and connected network. People won’t ride the bus unless it’s comparable to taking a car for travel times. Raleighites won’t walk unless we build dense, people-oriented city centers that feel welcoming and navigable. To date, our most important metric has been how fast a car gets through an intersection. This has to change. Recommendation: Set metrics and budget to install protected bike infrastructure annually and ensure  our BRT corridors have dedicated lanes for duration of corridor to incent and encourage this travel option.
  2. Land-Use: Density, matters. We need green space to preserve and encourage a sustainable model for growth. We can’t and won’t have that green space if we force those moving to our region to move further out vs. farther up for their homestead. Right now we’re incenting tear downs when we should be providing housing options for all, not just the affluent and wealthy Recommendation: Zone city to allow triplexes by right, a la Minneapolis and ensure we have dense zoning along all transit corridors.
  3. Housing: We have to not only make our houses more efficient but incent the right energy options for our residents. The City of Raleigh should encourage residents to apply solar arrays by providing community solar rates that are discounted for residents looking to decrease their impact. The city should establish a bulk purchasing program (like Athens, Georgia, and many others have) in order to provide a discount to make this option viable for more households. This study explores the rapidly decreasing cost of battery storage, which could also be part of the municipal incentive system created. Recommendation: Set up a Solarize Program to incent households to install solar on their roof canopy

We need to build a community where being green is the easiest choice for all. We’ve created a system that dictates increased impacts on an individual and societal level. It’s time to tip our system on it’s head and ask ourselves what’s possible. Let’s lead, Raleigh! We’re ready, let’s do it!

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